CommCore Blog and News

CLASH OF SPONSORS IN MEMPHIS

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You would think the Professional Golf Association (PGA) has had enough of controversy, what with Tiger this and Tiger that.

So making a tempest out of a teapot would seem to be against the PGA brand’s interest. But that’s just what happened when the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, TN initially barred British golfer Lee Westwood from participating in early June because he sports a small UPS logo on his shirt among several others. Westwood is currently the number 4 ranked golfer on the PGA tour.

Memphis is the headquarters home town of UPS rival FedEx, a tournament sponsor. The clash of rival sponsors apparently drove St. Jude tournament director Phil Cannon to un-invite Westwood, who planned to use the Classic as a tune-up for the upcoming US Open. Cannon’s for-the-record explanation? “One of [Westwood’s] sponsors gives us a little concern. Brown trucks [a reference to the UPS logo image] aren’t welcome on-site.”

Cannon’s decision brought a sharp retort from Chubby Chandler, the head of player rep colossus International Sports Management and Westwood’s agent, who presumed Cannon was responding to pressure from FedEx: “It’s a good job every sponsor doesn’t behave like that. It’’ irritating and quite pathetic,” Chandler said. “All because of one little UPS on his shirt. It’s not even on his head.”

The British sports press had a field day with the controversy and the St. Jude Classic organizers have since backed down and issued Westwood a belated invitation.

We believe Cannons initial decision flies against communications and reputation management logic on several fronts:

• Either St. Jude’s Classic officials didn’t think through the consequences of the snub – dumb. Or they did think about it and came to the wrong conclusion – dumber.

• For FedEx, the brou-ha-ha unnecessarily draws more attention rather than less to Westwood’s small UPS logo. We predict the golf press will bring the issue up in June when the tournament starts.

• Whether or not FedEx encouraged the initial decision, the company appears petty over what should be a minor concern. It’s not as if the Washington Redskins sold UPS a display at the Redskins home stadium — FedEx Field.

• It unnecessarily sullies the PGA by association with FedEx’s creation of clash of sponsors controversy.

• St. Jude’s is a renowned charitable organization and is now caught up as playing favorites in a corporate world. Donors don’t like charities taking sides like this.

Protecting a brand and an investment in a sponsorship is an essential part of any organization’s communications and crisis planning. But sometimes you score a double bogey by trying too hard when you should have settled for par.

What do you think? Did FedEx and the St. Jude Classic have the right to bar Westwood. Did they at least respond appropriately to protect their longstanding sponsor relationship? Does the initial decision to bar Westwood reflect on the St. Jude Classic, FedEx, the PGA, or all of them?

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